• on Jan 6th, 2014 | 4 comments

    No one can claim 2013 was an uneventful year in the postal world. Early in the year, the U.S. Postal Service made the blockbuster announcement that it would move to 5-day delivery, but by mid-year it had changed course and pulled the plan. Then, on Christmas Eve, the Postal Regulatory Commission issued a momentous decision to approve the exigent price increase, only temporarily through surcharges. Sprinkled in between were drones, barcodes, and Sunday delivery. Read on for the list of top 10 postal stories of 2013 (in reverse order of impact), as compiled by the staff of the Office of Inspector General. Let us know if you agree or disagree. And vote for your top story of the year.

    10. Cloudy with a Chance of Success  – The Postal Service is tapped to run the technology behind the cloud-based authentication program known as the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange. The program, known as FCCX, will allow citizens to use their existing online passwords and credentials to gain access to government online services.

    9. Just Drone it In – Delivery competition heats up as some of the biggest players look to get an edge. Amazon suggests it will use drones to deliver small packages in a few years. DHL, also eyeing drones, is testing crowdsourcing delivery in Sweden. And major retailers and their shipping partners ramp up same-day delivery offerings.

    8. Trolls, Barcodes, and Patent Law – Litigation by non-practicing entities (a.k.a. patent trolls) threatens to stymie wider adoption of the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) as mailers face lawsuits and steep legal fees to fight charges of patent infringement. The action raises questions of whether a similar approach could be applied to other new technologies, like augmented reality and near-field communications.

    7. Reality Bites – Posts around the world announced significant changes to their operations or business models to adjust to a new reality of communications. Royal Mail went public; New Zealand Post began a move to 3-day delivery in urban areas; and Canada Post said it will end to-the-door delivery by 2016.

    6. Nay to 5 Day – It looked like 5-day delivery of mail might happen in 2013 when the Postal Service unveiled plans in February to eliminate Saturday delivery of letters and flats. But the Board of Governors put the plan on ice for now.

    5. Intelligence Delayed – The long-awaited full service Intelligent Mail barcode requirement falls victim to the Postal Service’s annual price adjustment. The Postal Service delays the planned January 2014 implementation of IMb full service to accommodate the PRC order that stated price changes associated with the IMb requirement would violate the price cap.

    4. Growth Spurt – The Postal Service marks its first revenue increase in 5 years, taking in $800 million more than the previous year. Boosts come from Standard Mail, packages, international mail, and an accounting adjustment on unused forever stamps.

    3. You Say Potato – The Postal Service goes on a rebranding spree, first changing the name of its Parcel Post product to Standard Post, and then changing Express Mail to Priority Mail Express.

    2. Sunday Driver – Sunday is no longer a day of rest for the Postal Service. It inks an historic deal with Amazon.com to deliver packages on Sunday in some markets.

    1. It’s the Recession, Stupid – Well, sort of. The Postal Regulatory Commission approves, by a 2-1 vote, the Postal Service’s request to raise prices above the inflation-based price cap (including a 49-cent stamp) but only temporarily. The PRC directed the Postal Service to institute temporary rate surcharges to compensate only for losses due to the Great Recession, not for electronic diversion. 

  • on Dec 30th, 2013 in Delivery & Collection | 51 comments

    The 2013 holiday season turned out to be a particularly eventful one for e-tailers and the shippers that deliver all those packages to your door.

    Factors like fewer than average shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and an increasing comfort level with online buying helped push holiday e-commerce up significantly. In fact, demand exceeded expectations and stressed shippers’ capacity, causing some late deliveries of their goods.  

    Package delivery is clearly a growth industry and the Postal Service expects its piece of that business to rise 6 to 7 percent annually through fiscal year 2017. But is the Postal Service ready for all these packages? Can it meet the growing demand, or is it hampered by a delivery infrastructure that is largely geared toward letters and flats? We recently took a look at the issue and the results were mixed.

    Our audit report, Readiness for Package Growth – Delivery Operations, found the Postal Service has done a good job of managing package growth in terms of mail volume and workhours. But it could make some changes to better handle future increases. For example, to-the-door delivery works well but curbside mailboxes were primarily designed for letters, flats, and small parcels, and they can’t easily accommodate multiple or large packages. We suggested the Postal Service look at modifying cluster boxes to accommodate more packages.

    We also encouraged the Postal Service to explore investing in shelving space on delivery vehicles to accommodate packages and to continue to develop an advanced dynamic routing system. Dynamic routing analyzes individual addresses to tell the carrier how to get to them more quickly. The tool takes into consideration things like traffic congestion and left-hand turns, both of which can eat up time and fuel. These and other steps outlined in the report should help the Postal Service expand services and increase revenue to meet growing customer demand.

    So, what was your experience over the holidays? Were you among the many Americans who bought more gifts online than in previous years? Were your delivery services reliable or did any part of the experience discourage you from future online buying? What changes would you like to see in delivery and returns?

  • on Dec 23rd, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 1 comment

    Holiday mailings are as much a part of the American tradition as kids’ letters to Santa.

    We’ve talked a lot about the growth in packages, including those all-important holiday gifts. But the Postal Service is also doing its bit to make sure Big Red knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. As in years past, families with young “believers” have been taking advantage of the Postal Service offering that ensures letters from Santa have a North Pole postmark (so long as the request was made by December 10).

    Still others go to greater lengths to get in the spirit of the season. Each December holiday enthusiasts travel to the quiet town of Christmas, FL and visit its local post office, so their Christmas cards will be postmarked from Christmas itself. And for early planners, the Postal Service offers postmarks on letters and cards from other “Christmas-themed” towns, including Santa Claus, IN; Rudolph, OH; Antlers, ND; and any number of places called Bethlehem. Click here for the full list. 

    Whether you are mailing your holiday greetings and goodies from an exotic locale or putting them on the front stoop for your local carrier to pick up – Pushing the Envelope wishes you a wonderful holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous New Year.

    We also want to remind you to check back with us on Monday, January 6 when we will post our list of Top 10 Stories of the Year. As always, we welcome your feedback.